Prologue & Chapter 1
July 14, 2010, Polecat, Alaska
Lurking in the grocery aisle of the Polecat General Store, Rachel Miller pretended to shop while she eavesdropped on the conversation between the store’s owner, Ted Haggerty, and the broad-shouldered customer he’d called Jake. She’d recognized the guy the minute he’d walked in, despite the fact he was fully clothed.
Although they’d never met, she knew three things about Jake. He lived across the lake from her grandfather’s cabin, he liked to skinny dip, and he was built for pleasure. Among other items, Grandpa Ike had left her his high-powered binoculars.
She’d accidentally caught her hot neighbor’s skinny-dipping routine one warm summer night while watching an eagle dive for a fish. After that, she’d planned her evenings around it.
After opening the screen door of the general store, Jake had glanced in her direction but hadn’t seemed to recognize her. Apparently he hadn’t been keeping tabs on her the way she had on him. That was disappointing.
Then again, she only spent a couple of weeks in Polecat every summer and she wasn’t the type to plunge naked into an alpine lake. Still, she would have taken this opportunity to introduce herself if he hadn’t paused in front of the small display of her wood carvings.
She’d immediately turned away, grabbed a can of salmon and studied the label with fierce intensity. If she ever intended to move from hobbyist to professional, she’d have to get over being self-conscious about displaying her work for sale, but she was brand-new at it. Asking Ted last week if he’d like to carry her art in his store had required tremendous courage.
Today when she’d come in and noticed that nothing had sold, she’d been tempted to cart it all back to the cabin. Ted had talked her out of giving up and now her gorgeous neighbor was discussing the carvings with Ted. She hoped to hell Ted wouldn’t mention that the artist was right here in the grocery aisle. Then the guy might feel obligated to buy something, and how embarrassing would that be?
“So who’s this Rachel Miller?” Jake had a deep voice that matched his lumberjack physique. His name fit him, too.
Rachel held her breath. Now would be the logical time for Ted to call her over and introduce her. She prayed that he wouldn’t.
Ted hesitated, as if debating whether to reveal her presence. “She’s local.”
Rachel exhaled slowly. She might not be a skinny dipper, but there were many ways to be naked, and this, she discovered, was one of them. She could leave and spare herself the agony of listening to whatever Jake might say about her work, but then she’d be tormented with curiosity for days.
Besides, she’d already put several food items in the basket she carried over one arm. Leaving the basket and bolting from the store would make her more conspicuous, not less.
“I like her stuff.”
Clapping a hand to her mouth, Rachel closed her eyes and savored the words. He liked it!
“Especially the wolf.”
“That’s my personal favorite,” Ted said.
Validation sent a rush of adrenaline through her system. It was her favorite, too. The other carvings were forest animal figurines, none any bigger than eight inches tall. Her friends back in Fairbanks raved about them, but friends were biased. Their opinions were cherished, but not always believed.
She’d broken new ground with the wolf, though. After finding a ragged chunk of driftwood about two feet long, she’d left the basic shape intact while carving the wolf in bas relief on the smoothest side. Powerful and majestic, the wolf appeared to be emerging from the piece of wood.
Ted had praised the carving, but Ted had a natural tendency to encourage people. His comments didn’t pack the same punch as those from someone who didn’t know her and had no reason to protect her feelings. Excitement made her giddy.
A moment of silence followed. She wondered if Jake had wandered away from the display to begin his grocery shopping, but she didn’t dare look to make sure. If he’d finished admiring her work, that was fine. He’d given her a gift simply by commenting favorably.
“I want to buy it.”
Her chest tightened. A sale.
“All righty, then!” Ted sounded pleased.
Rachel was in shock. A complete stranger was willing to pay money for something she’d created! She stifled the urge to rush over and shower him with thanks. On the heels of that urge came another – to snatch the piece and announce it wasn’t for sale, after all.
Once Jake bought that carving, she’d never see it again. She hadn’t expected to be upset by that. Apparently the wolf meant far more to her than she’d realized.
Jake might like what she’d done, but he couldn’t fully appreciate it unless he’d also caught a glimpse of the magnificent black wolf that had inspired her. She’d only seen it once, poised in a clearing. Grandpa Ike had taught her how to get good pictures of wild creatures – stay downwind and seek cover. She’d been in luck that day, perfectly positioned for an awesome shot.
The photo was still tacked to a bulletin board in the cabin, so she could use it to carve another likeness. Yet she couldn’t guarantee the next attempt would capture the wolf’s essence in quite the same way. She’d known this piece was special the moment it was completed.
Finishing it had given her the confidence to approach Ted in the first place. Not surprisingly, it had become her first sale. If people bought her work, maybe she could give up her veterinarian internship and carve full time.
She’d thought she’d love being a vet, but the surgery and death that were an inevitable part of the job drained her. Wood carving gave her nothing but joy. Still, it might not bring in enough to support her. One sale was hardly a guarantee that she could make a living as an artist.
It was a positive sign, though, and thanks to what she’d inherited from Grandpa Ike, she had a place to live and a little money to tide her over if she decided to switch gears. The prospect was scary, but exciting, too. She had Jake the skinny dipper to thank for jump-starting her dreams.
From the corner of her eye she could see him rounding the aisle where she stood, a basket over his arm. Walking in the opposite direction, she ducked down a parallel aisle and carried her basket to the counter where Ted was wrapping her carving.
He glanced up and smiled. “Do you want to tell –”
“No.” She kept her voice down. “Thanks for not saying anything.”
Ted spoke softly, obviously sensing her nervousness. “Decided that was up to you.” He finished taping the end of the parcel and set it aside. “Congratulations, though. He lives across the lake from you.”
“Thought I recognized him. What’s his name, again?”
“Jake Hunter. He’s a wilderness guide. Earns good money doing it. Quite well-off.”
“I see.” Judging people’s financial status was tough in a place like Polecat, where everyone kept a low profile, dressed casually, and drove dusty trucks and SUVs. She was flattered that a successful wilderness guide found value in her work.
Ted rang up her groceries and bagged them in the canvas tote she’d given him. She hadn’t bought much because she’d been so distracted, so Ted finished quickly. Fine with her. She’d prefer to be out the door before Jake returned to the counter.
She almost made it. She was tucking her change back into her purse when he walked up, his basket stuffed with everything from canned goods to paper products. He must be a fast shopper.
Not wanting to appear antisocial, she met his gaze while keeping her expression friendly but neutral. “Hi.”
“Hello.” He glanced at her with the same carefully neutral expression. But then a spark of interest lit his green eyes.
Her breath caught. She’d never looked into those eyes before. Grandpa Ike’s binoculars were good, but not that good. Yet she felt as if she’d met his gaze before, and seeing it again brought back a half-remembered thrill. Crazy.
Even crazier, she flashed on the image of the black wolf in the clearing – a green-eyed wolf with dark, luxurious fur the same color as Jake’s collar-length hair. Clearly his purchase of the carving was messing with her mind.
The interest reflected in Jake’s eyes slowly changed to speculation. Maybe something in her expression had given her away, or maybe he’d picked up enough of her quiet conversation with Ted to figure out who she was. In any case, she needed to vamoose before he started asking questions.
Quickly breaking eye contact, she grabbed her canvas bag from the counter. Her smile probably looked more like a grimace, but it was the best she could do. “You two have a nice day!” She headed for the screen door.
As exits go, it wasn’t her best. Heart pounding, she climbed into the old truck Grandpa Ike had willed to her, started the ancient engine, and pulled out onto the two-lane road that skirted the lake. She’d escaped, but the adrenaline rush of making her first sale stayed with her.
Logic, the tool that her lawyer father embraced, told her that Jake buying the wolf carving wasn’t reason enough to change her life. Intuition, the tool that her photographer mother preferred, whispered that she’d reached a major turning point and shouldn’t ignore it. Grandpa Ike, who had been more intuitive than anyone else on her mother’s side of the family, would have told her to listen to her instincts.
Rachel wondered what Jake Hunter would have said if she’d had the courage to admit she’d carved that wolf. Or maybe, judging from the quiet assessment in those green eyes, he already knew.
* * *
Jake finished answering email from members of the group he’d founded the previous year, Werewolves Against Random Mating (WARM). Shutting down the laptop, he headed for the kitchen and snagged a cold bottle of Spruce Tip Ale from the refrigerator. Then he twisted off the cap and walked into the living room. As usual, his gaze drifted to the Rachel Miller carving displayed on his mantel.
The soot from the hearth fires of three consecutive winters had darkened the wood. Maybe he should clean and oil it, now that summer had arrived once again. Or not. Soot settled into the grooves added character, in his estimation. Reaching out, he traced the distinctive and familiar slant of the wolf’s wide-set eyes.
When he’d bought the piece, he’d had no clue that Rachel would become internationally famous. But he’d suspected that his impulse buy might come back to haunt him, especially after he’d walked up to the counter and she’d turned to look into his eyes.
Leaning against the mantel, he gazed across Polecat Lake toward her property. It was nearly nine in the evening, but it might as well be midday. Sunlight continued to play on the water, and the metallic whine of her power saw drifted in through his open window. She must be starting another large project, one that required the saw and the extra space provided by the workshop she’d had built about ten yards from her cabin.
Now that she was bringing in the big bucks, he kept expecting her to tear down that cabin and build a McMansion in its place. So far she hadn’t, and he respected her for keeping her operation low-key. Understatement was a Polecat tradition, one of the reasons he loved it here.
She’d bought a new truck, but he couldn’t blame her for replacing the unreliable bucket of bolts she’d inherited from her grandfather. She’d also hired a local kid named Lionel, who was part Native American, to clean her workshop and wrestle the bigger pieces onto her truck. A new truck, a roomy workshop, and a part-time assistant seemed to be the only concessions she’d made to her success, and Ted Haggerty claimed that she was the same down-to-earth person she’d always been.
If so, then props to her, because she’d created quite a stir, the kind that could turn a person’s head. No telling what this hunk of driftwood was worth now that she had commissions coming in from wealthy collectors all over the world. He should probably have it insured and protected in a climate-controlled safe.
Rachel Miller’s first wolf carving, if it surfaced, would bring a pretty penny on the auction block. To her credit, she’d never identified him as the buyer of her initial effort, and neither had Ted. Apparently no one except the three of them knew this work existed.
She’d sent him a note a couple months after he’d made his purchase, though. He knew that note by heart.
Dear Mr. Hunter,
You bought my wolf carving from the Polecat General Store on July 14. You were my first sale. There have been others since then, but yours was the most significant. It inspired me to leave my veterinarian internship and try my luck as a full-time carver. I was in the store that day and we met, but I didn’t have the nerve to identify myself and thank you for making the purchase. I want to thank you now. You literally changed my life.
He hadn’t needed the note to tell him that he’d met her that day. His acute hearing had picked up snatches of her conversation with Ted, and he’d pegged her as the granddaughter who’d inherited Ike’s cabin. Ike had been a carver, although not nearly as talented as Rachel.
Then Jake had met her gaze, and her nervous excitement had given her away. Although he wasn’t an artist, he could imagine that putting your stuff in front of the public would be scary, and having someone buy it might take some getting used to.
He’d debated for days whether to respond to that note, which was still tucked under the carving on his mantel. In the end he’d decided not to. If he’d replied, she might have thought they could be friends. But he’d known from the moment they’d met that friendship wasn’t going to cut it. He wanted her, and he couldn’t have her.
That made living across the lake from her cabin a difficult proposition. Closing his eyes, he pictured how she’d looked three years ago, her hair falling to her shoulders in shades ranging from dark walnut to warm cherry. Her gaze had locked with his for one electric moment, making him think of summer storms and silvery rain.
She’d worn jeans and a faded T-shirt, an unremarkable outfit designed simply to cover her tall, lithe body. She hadn’t tried to entice anyone with those clothes. Yet she’d enticed him without trying. He couldn’t explain why that was, except that it was somehow linked to the carving on his mantel.
Her ability to capture the wolf’s spirit in her work had spoken to him on an unsettlingly deep level. Something wordless and intense had passed between them that day at the general store. He feared that she saw things about him that she shouldn’t see.
He’d also sensed she was attracted to him, and if he was right about that, any further contact would be unfair to her and irresponsible of him. Thinking about her still brought a surge of lust that should have weakened by now. Instead it grew stronger by the day. And that was damned inconvenient for a werewolf who despised the concept of Weres having sex with humans.
He’d dedicated himself to that cause for personal and family reasons, and he wasn’t about to stray because of his tempting neighbor. He had a duty to uphold Were tradition, partly because his mother Daphne had been a Wallace, a direct descendent of what had once been werewolf royalty in Alaska.
Under the leadership of the Wallaces, the Alaskan Were community had amassed a fortune following the Gold Rush in the late eighteen-nineties. As each pack had prospered, splinter groups had migrated throughout North America. No Wallace pack members lived in Alaska anymore. His mother had mated with Benjamin Hunter, whose pack was based in Idaho, and that’s where Jake had grown up.
Werewolves, including the Hunter pack, had created financial dynasties in all major North American cities, a fact unknown to the human population. The pack based in New York was the only one to continue the Wallace name.
Jake’s mother had settled in Idaho with her mate, but she remained proud of her Wallace heritage. Before Jake had reached puberty and developed the ability to shift, his mother had taken him to visit the historic Wallace lodge set deep in the forest near Sitka. It was now a private museum known only to Weres.
That trip had convinced Jake that he wanted to live in Alaska and dedicate himself to protecting the Were legacy. Because he believed that Were-human mating threatened that legacy, it had become his primary target.
Unfortunately, prominent werewolves had already mated with humans. Worse yet, two of them were from the historic Wallace pack. So far those humans had not revealed the existence of werewolves, but some Weres believed the time had come to end the secrecy. Jake viewed that as a recipe for disaster.
During last fall’s WereCon2012 in Denver, a newly formed governing body called the Worldwide Organization of Werewolves, or WOW, had tackled the issue. To Jake’s disappointment, they’d left it open to interpretation by individual Weres. Although Jake had been an elected WOW board member, the group’s liberal stance had forced him to resign. He’d founded WARM and had cut back on his wilderness guiding while he rallied support for his cause.
Meanwhile, Rachel Miller’s career had skyrocketed, and her trademark was the wolf. Not just any wolf, either. Her name had become synonymous with carvings of this particular wolf, the one that looked almost exactly like Jake when he shifted.
Any Were who’d seen him in wolf form and also knew Rachel’s work had remarked on the similarities. She’d captured the shape of the eyes and the faint diamond pattern on his forehead created by a soft mixture of gray and black. Humans might think that all wolves looked alike, but Weres recognized even subtle distinctions. Rachel’s wolves all resembled Jake.
He’d seen the speculation in the eyes of his fellow Weres. No doubt they wondered if he’d been careless enough to accidentally let Rachel photograph him in wolf form, or, even more damning, that she knew him this well because he’d had a relationship with her. No one had accused him of anything . . . yet.
If and when they did, he could honestly say Rachel’s wolf wasn’t him. At first he’d thought so, too. But after the initial shock, he’d examined the carving more closely. True, it looked very much like him, but it looked even more like his father.
No doubt Rachel had worked from a picture of Benjamin Hunter in wolf form. She wouldn’t have had to try very hard to get the photo, either. During his parents’ summer trips to Alaska from Idaho, his father had chafed against the midnight sun that robbed him of concealing darkness. He’d taken his nightly runs in defiance of Jake’s warnings, gallivanting through the forest surrounding Polecat Lake as if discovery didn’t matter.
It mattered a lot. Alaska’s native wolves weren’t nearly as large and magnificent as those found in a Were pack. Sightings of such wolves might arouse the interest of wildlife experts, and if they ever managed to capture and tag a werewolf . . . Jake didn’t even want to think about that. But Benjamin Hunter had been a headstrong Were determined to get his exercise.
On the day Jake had bought the carving, he hadn’t been able to lecture his father about his carelessness because Benjamin and Daphne had been killed in an avalanche during a skiing trip the previous winter. As their only offspring, Jake had inherited all their considerable wealth. He was prepared to spend most of it in support of WARM.
He’d hoped his dedication to that cause would sidetrack his interest in Rachel, and to some extent, it had. Traveling to gather support kept him away from Polecat Lake for long stretches of time. It also brought him into contact with eligible Were females, and theoretically that should have helped, too. Instead he still yearned for Rachel.
Fortunately she was gone a lot, as well. Ted had mentioned that she preferred to meet with clients on their turf rather than bringing them here. Jake admired her desire to preserve her privacy and that of her neighbors. There wasn’t much he didn’t like about Rachel.
Summer nights like this, when they both happened to be home, severely tested his resolve to avoid her. The everlasting twilight meant he could easily see her place from any back window, and he could hear her working into the night, especially when she used the bench saw.
To keep himself from going crazy, he’d developed a routine. If the urge to be near her became overpowering, he’d shift into wolf form. Carefully navigating the perimeter of the lake, he’d creep close enough to breathe her intoxicating scent, a mix of almond lotion and human female. He’d count the visit a success if he caught a glimpse of her walking down the path connecting her cabin with her workshop.
When that happened, he’d melt into the shadows, mindful of how observant she was. Often she’d sing as she worked, and the happy sound only added to his desire and frustration. Then he’d vow to stop the visits once and for all. But after several nights, he’d find himself circling the lake again.
Standing by the mantel, he ran his hand over the driftwood, well aware that having it close by was part of the problem. In lovingly carving this wolf, she’d revealed a part of herself that had wholly captivated him. He really should get rid of the thing, but he had to find a way that wouldn’t draw attention to him. Maybe he should give it to Ted and let him sell it to the highest bidder.
But not right now. Draining the last of his ale, he walked out on his deck, unbuttoning his shirt as he went. Tonight, as he often did, he’d immerse himself in the cold water of the lake and swim until he was exhausted. Maybe this time he’d be too tired to pay her another late-hour visit. That would be a blessing.
* * *
Rachel cruised past the Polecat General Store mid-morning to check for vehicles. The parking lot was empty except for Ted’s battered truck, so she flipped a U-turn and pulled in. She needed a few things, but she no longer shopped when strangers were there.
If the store was busy and she was desperate for groceries, she sometimes sent Lionel, or occasionally she called Ted, who’d deliver what she needed after locking up for the day. Although she refused to be a hypocrite and complain about the price of fame, she’d enjoyed the days when she’d been able to pop into the general store whenever she’d felt like it.
As Polecat’s most high-profile resident, she had to be more cautious now. Fortunately the town was off the beaten path, so only the most rabid collectors showed up looking for her. The residents of Polecat were extremely protective and pretended they’d never heard of her. She’d set up a simple alarm system in her cabin and workshop and usually forgot to activate it. She hadn’t felt the need for a privacy fence or locked gates. With luck she could keep from turning her cozy home into a fortress.
Ted beamed at her when she pushed open the screen door. He had a great smile, a fringe of gray hair that he kept threatening to shave off, and thick glasses. He was going soft in the middle and didn’t seem to care, especially after his wife ran off with a life insurance salesman from Spokane. Ted seemed fine living alone and tending the store, but he’d canceled the life policy he’d bought from the guy.
Rachel returned his smile. “I noticed the parking lot was empty so I thought I’d chance it.”
“I figured you must be running low on coffee and eggs.”
“And candy bars.” She’d discovered nothing solved a creative problem like dark chocolate. “Lionel refuses to buy them for me.”
Ted laughed. “I noticed. You could threaten to fire him for that.”
“I couldn’t, either.” The thought of firing Lionel, the most earnest nineteen-year-old she’s ever met, made her tummy hurt. “He honestly believes sugar is evil and I should give it up for my own good. But I don’t intend to.”
“Just got a shipment yesterday.”
“Great.” Picking up a basket, she started toward the grocery aisle.
“Jake Hunter came in this morning.”
“Oh?” As she paused and turned back toward the counter, she hoped she wasn’t blushing.
Hearing Jake’s name conjured up a potent image of his extremely ripped and completely naked body right before he’d plunged into the lake the previous night, and the night before that, and every night since he’d come home. He had a predictable routine that included skinny dipping around nine p.m. Once she’d identified the pattern, she’d organized her work schedule around it.
She justified her ogling as harmless entertainment for a thirty-two-year-old woman who wasn’t getting any. Jake’s was the only ogle-worthy male body in her world these days. Lionel was too young and Ted was a sweetie but not exactly hot stuff. A girl had to have some fun, even if it was only of the voyeuristic kind.
She’d been trying to remedy her lack of a love life, but the logistics were tricky. She didn’t want a guy who was attracted to her money and fame, and she was protective of her privacy. Her girlfriends in Fairbanks had talked her into signing up with an online dating site so she could preview someone without giving her true identity or exact location.
Unfortunately she hadn’t found anyone on those sites who merited a coffee date, let alone a lifetime commitment. She was on the verge of giving up that effort but hadn’t devised an alternative plan. Oh, well. She loved her work and finding time for a relationship would be difficult, anyway.
Of course, if Jake Hunter came calling, she might sing a different tune. But he obviously didn’t want to interact with her at all. He hadn’t even responded to the note she’d sent three years ago. It seemed for now she’d have to be content with her binoculars and her fantasies.
Ted rubbed the top of his bald head, which he did whenever he was uncomfortable with the conversation. “I thought I should tell you . . . he wants to give me the carving he bought.”
“Give it to you?” She was thoroughly insulted. And hurt. All this time she’d felt some satisfaction that Jake at least liked her work even if he didn’t much like her. “Does he realize that it’s worth a lot?”
“Guess so. He told me I could sell it and take a cruise.”
“A very long cruise.” The more Rachel thought about it, the more irritated she became. Jake had the distinction of owning her first-ever wolf carving. Knowing that he was trying to dump it and wasn’t even interested in making money on the deal galled her. “Why doesn’t he sell it himself?”
“I don’t know.”
“If he’s worried about the notoriety of owning that first piece, he could sell it through a third party.”
“I offered to handle that for him, or find someone else who would. He told me to do whatever I wanted with it, because he didn’t need any money out of the deal. I suppose he doesn’t, but still, it’s strange.”
More like a stab to the heart, but Rachel didn’t want to let on how much it bothered her. He’d rejected her gesture of friendship three years ago and now he was rejecting her work. He might be gorgeous, but she would have to stop ogling him every night because he was turning out to be a cold bastard.
Unless there was more to the story. She gazed at Ted. “Is there something you’re not telling me? Did you save his life years ago and you became blood brothers? Does he owe you his life and giving you the carving is his way of settling the score?”
Ted laughed. “That’s a creative thought, Rachel, but I’m afraid that’s not the answer. We’ve had a friendly relationship, but I wouldn’t say we’re close. I pick up his mail for him whenever he leaves town, but Jake’s a hard guy to get to know. He’s lived in Polecat for around ten years, but I couldn’t tell you much about him except he gets a lot of outdoor magazines.”
“And now he’s ready to give away a valuable piece of art rather than risk selling it himself . . .” Rachel brightened. “I’ll bet he’s in the witness protection program!”
“I seriously doubt that.”
“Okay, he could be an international spy, or a drug runner, or a hit man for the mob, or –”
“Whoa, there, Nellie. Don’t go letting your imagination get completely out of control. Jake’s your average Alaskan backcountry character, maybe somewhat quirky, maybe somewhat antisocial, but with a good heart. Little towns like Polecat draw people who don’t care for country clubs and cocktail parties. You know that.”
“I do.” Rachel smiled a little sheepishly. “It’s why I’m here, after all. When I’m working, I can be as antisocial as anybody.”
“And God help the person who comes between you and your chocolate.”
“Exactly. Lionel’s lucky he’s so adorable or he’d be toast.” She sighed. “Okay, you’ve convinced me that Jake is no more weird than the rest of us, but it’s damned irritating that he wants to dump my carving. I have to admit it feels like a slap in the face.”
“I knew it would, but I had to tell you. If he shows up with the carving this afternoon like he promised, I didn’t want it to come as a surprise to you that I have it.”
“I appreciate that.”
“In fact, I’ll call you if he brings it over, because I want you to sell it instead of me.”
She nodded. “I can do that for you, Ted. I have more contacts and can get you a really good price.” She might even decide to buy it herself and keep it as a reminder of her first sale. No, that wouldn’t work because it would also remind her of her first customer, Jake the Jerk.
“I don’t want the money, either.”
“What the hell? Why doesn’t anybody want the money? Is this carving cursed in some way I don’t know about?”
“No, of course not. But it doesn’t seem fair that I should profit from something I didn’t make in the first place. You should have the money.”
“But he’s giving it to you, not me.”
“Well, he could hardly give it back to you, now, could he? That would be rude.”
And it would require him to actually talk to her, unless he left it on her doorstep like a piece of unwanted trash. “Ted, he’s already being rude. Surely he realizes that I’ll find out what he did with it. Obviously he doesn’t care.”
“Would you rather he’d pitched it into the fireplace and hadn’t bothered to contact either of us?”
Her heart gave a quick thump of alarm. “Oh, God, do you think he would do that? Is he so eager to get rid of it?”
Ted’s gaze gentled behind his glasses. “Apparently he doesn’t want it anymore, Rachel. People change. Their tastes change. Maybe he’s dating someone who doesn’t care for it.”
Rachel made a face. She’d rather have this be Jake’s decision than one dictated by some woman who planned to redecorate his cabin. “Is he dating someone?”
“Not that I know of. I’m just looking for reasons like you are. Listen, you have the world at your feet. Forget about Jake’s opinion. It doesn’t matter.”
“You’re absolutely right. I just . . . no, it really doesn’t matter. And if Jake wants to ditch that carving, we need to find someone who would be thrilled to have it.” She had another thought. “Do you want to keep it?”
“Knowing what it’s worth . . . I don’t. Thanks, anyway, but it would make me a nervous wreck. I couldn’t tell anybody, and you know how talkative I get after a couple of beers. I’d end up blabbing about it to somebody, and then I’d have to install a sophisticated alarm system, and then –”
“Chaos. Jake Hunter has created chaos.”
“Just remember that he didn’t throw it in the fire. He could have done that and we’d never know.”
“You’re right, and I’m grateful he didn’t. Call me if and when he brings it over. I’ll come and pick it up. Then we’ll decide what to do next.” With another sigh she resumed her grocery shopping.
When she came to the candy display, she loaded up. Now that Jake was discarding her work, watching him skinny dip would bring more pain than pleasure, so that nightly ritual would go the way of the dodo bird. In order to compensate, she’d need a lot more chocolate.